Lessons

Cooking Up Pollution: The Health Crisis of Open Fires and Leaky Stoves

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In Jocotenango, Guatemala, Rosa de Sapeta's family used to avoid her smoke-filled kitchen. But since an aid group helped her replace the open fire with a cleaner burning stove, she says, "I have company while I cook." Image by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017.

In Jocotenango, Guatemala, Rosa de Sapeta's family used to avoid her smoke-filled kitchen. But since an aid group helped her replace the open fire with a cleaner burning stove, she says, "I have company while I cook." Image by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017.

Smoke in San Antonio

Some three billion people around the world cook their food and heat their homes with open or barely contained fires. Here, a woman stands near her household cooking fire in San Antonio Aguas Calientes, Guatemala. Photo by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017.

Some three billion people around the world cook their food and heat their homes with open or barely contained fires. Here, a woman stands near her household cooking fire in San Antonio Aguas Calientes, Guatemala. Photo by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017.

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Flora Kandodo of Nessa village near Mulanje, Malawi, is cooking relish on her new Aleva stove—an improved cook stove that is fuel efficient and smokes less. Image by Nathalie Bertrams. Malawi, 2017.

Flora Kandodo of Nessa village near Mulanje, Malawi, is cooking relish on her new Aleva stove—an improved cook stove that is fuel efficient and smokes less. Image by Nathalie Bertrams. Malawi, 2017.

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There is a silent killer claiming millions of lives around the world: cooking smoke. Image by Nathalie Bertrams. Malawi, 2017.

There is a silent killer claiming millions of lives around the world: cooking smoke. Image by Nathalie Bertrams. Malawi, 2017.

Fire, burns and scars

Mary burned her hair and face when she fell into the flames of an open fire on which she was heating water for tea. Mary has epilepsy and the accident happened whilst she was having a fit. She remembers nothing but the pain. Now she is being treated at Kamuzu Central Hospital's burns unit in Lilongwe - she is slowly on the mend. Image by Nathalie Bertrams. Malawi, 2017.

Mary burned her hair and face when she fell into the flames of an open fire on which she was heating water for tea. Mary has epilepsy and the accident happened whilst she was having a fit. She remembers nothing but the pain. Now she is being treated at Kamuzu Central Hospital's burns unit in Lilongwe - she is slowly on the mend. Image by Nathalie Bertrams. Malawi, 2017.

 

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Beans cooking over wood fire

Beans cook over a wood fire behind a house in Villa Magante. Magaly Lantigua, who runs the Episcopal church up the road, says some of the poorer people in the community will use wood to save money instead of relying on propane gas. Image by Makenzie Huber. Dominican Republic, 2016.

Eugenia Orozco

Writer Michelle Nijhuis talks with Eugenia Velásquez Orozco, who remembers when her household adjusted from an open fire to a chimney stove. Now her granddaughter-in-law, a new mother, is learning to use a gas stove. “Give me another five years,” Orozco says with a grin, “and maybe I’ll get used to that, too.” Photo by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017.

Writer Michelle Nijhuis talks with Eugenia Velásquez Orozco, who remembers when her household adjusted from an open fire to a chimney stove. Now her granddaughter-in-law, a new mother, is learning to use a gas stove. “Give me another five years,” Orozco says with a grin, “and maybe I’ll get used to that, too.” Photo by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017.

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Solar Oven Partners workshop lecture

Reverenda Maria Bock, president of social action for the Iglesia Evangelica Dominicana Church, talks to members of the IED church in Villa Magante about the benefits of solar ovens. Image by Makenzie Huber. Dominican Republic, 2016.

Eugenio Sajpop

Eugenio Sajpop, 73, hiked more than two miles into the mountains and spent the entire day cutting to collect two bundles of firewood—one of which he'll have to fetch the next morning. On his way home, he passes a store that sells efficient cookstoves. Photo by Lynn Johnson.  Guatemala, 2017.

Eugenio Sajpop, 73, hiked more than two miles into the mountains and spent the entire day cutting to collect two bundles of firewood—one of which he'll have to fetch the next morning. On his way home, he passes a store that sells efficient cookstoves. Photo by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017.

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Food cooks in solar oven

Ardell (Louisa) Graner, a United Methodist Church missionary, talks with women in the Villa Liberación community about how to use solar ovens sold and distributed by Solar Oven Partners. Pots of food cook a few feet away in the solar ovens. Image by Makenzie Huber. Dominican Republic, 2016.

EcoComal sale

Representatives of the EcoComal stove company sell their efficient cookstoves on market day in San Antonio Aguas Calientes, Guatemala. For a stove to be fully accepted by a household, both stove and fuel must be affordable, accessible, and easy to use—goals that aren’t easy to achieve simultaneously. Photo by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017.

Representatives of the EcoComal stove company sell their efficient cookstoves on market day in San Antonio Aguas Calientes, Guatemala. For a stove to be fully accepted by a household, both stove and fuel must be affordable, accessible, and easy to use—goals that aren’t easy to achieve simultaneously. Photo by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017.

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Community members build ovens

Magdonia Reyes Salazar and Pastor Rafael Soto work together to build a solar oven frame behind their Iglesia Evangelica Dominicana church in Sosua. Image by Makenzie Huber. Dominican Republic, 2016.

New Stove in Las Brisas

In Las Brisas, Guatemala, a woman stands proudly next to her efficient cookstove, which was donated to her by the aid group Stove Team International. In the developing world, health problems from household smoke inhalation are a significant cause of death in both children under five and women. Photo by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017.

In Las Brisas, Guatemala, a woman stands proudly next to her efficient cookstove, which was donated to her by the aid group Stove Team International. In the developing world, health problems from household smoke inhalation are a significant cause of death in both children under five and women. Photo by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017.

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Children watch a solar oven workshop outside the church property

Children watch the activity inside the Villa Liberación chapel of the Iglesia Evangelica Dominicana Church area. Image by Makenzie Huber. Dominican Republic, 2016.

San Ramon

The typical open cooking fire produces about 400 cigarettes’ worth of smoke an hour, and prolonged exposure is associated with respiratory infections, eye damage, heart and lung disease, and lung cancer. Here, a mother and her four children squint in the smoke of their household fire in San Ramon, Guatemala. Photo by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017. Guatemala, 2017.

The typical open cooking fire produces about 400 cigarettes’ worth of smoke an hour, and prolonged exposure is associated with respiratory infections, eye damage, heart and lung disease, and lung cancer. Here, a mother and her four children squint in the smoke of their household fire in San Ramon, Guatemala. Photo by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017.

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Women prepare chicken to cook in solar ovens

Women in the Villa Liberación community prepare chicken to put in solar ovens. Image by Makenzie Huber. Dominican Republic, 2016.

Yeni Contreras

In Las Brisas, Guatemala, Yeni Contreras, 24, holds her four-month-old daughter Heidi. When she received an efficient wood-burning stove from the aid group Stove Team International, she carried it to her kitchen herself, piece by piece. She loves the stove, but, like many of her neighbors, she is afraid to cut a hole in the roof for the chimney, fearing the chimney will be damaged during the rainy season. Photo by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017.

In Las Brisas, Guatemala, Yeni Contreras, 24, holds her four-month-old daughter Heidi. When she received an efficient wood-burning stove from the aid group Stove Team International, she carried it to her kitchen herself, piece by piece. She loves the stove, but, like many of her neighbors, she is afraid to cut a hole in the roof for the chimney, fearing the chimney will be damaged during the rainy season. Photo by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017.

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Solar ovens cook atop a Sosua rooftop

Ten solar ovens sit atop the Igelsia Evangelica Dominicana church roof in Sosua. Temperatures on the ovens need to reach more than 200 degrees Fahrenheit before cooking can start. Image by Makenzie Huber. Dominican Republic, 2016.

Lopez Lopez

Augustina Lopez Lopez and her daughter, Jessica Roxana Lopez Lopez, of San Antonio Aguas Calientes, Guatemala, recently received an efficient wood-burning stove from the aid group Stove Team International. The air in the kitchen where Augustina weaves is less smoky now, but on some days her eyes are still badly irritated. Photo by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017.

Augustina Lopez Lopez and her daughter, Jessica Roxana Lopez Lopez, of San Antonio Aguas Calientes, Guatemala, recently received an efficient wood-burning stove from the aid group Stove Team International. The air in the kitchen where Augustina weaves is less smoky now, but on some days her eyes are still badly irritated. Photo by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017.

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Woman feels heat from solar oven after being opened

Magdonia Reyes Salazar, a member of the Iglesia Evangelica Dominicana in Sosua, jumps back in surprise after feeling the heat released from a solar oven. The inside of the oven is lined with black material to attract the sun and two plastic lids insulate it. Image by Makenzie Huber. Dominican Republic, 2016.

Woodpile in Las Brisas

Firewood is stacked outside a classroom in Las Brisas, Guatemala. Photo by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017.

Firewood is stacked outside a classroom in Las Brisas, Guatemala. Photo by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017.

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Women inspect cooked eggs taken out of solar ovens

Wanda Martinez peers behind Marleny Fermin Sueno's shoulder to examine a cooked egg brought out of the oven. The eggs were the first pot of food to be cooked in the ovens at a workshop in Villa Liberación. Image by Makenzie Huber. Dominican Republic, 2016.

Maria Garcia Cruz

Maria García Cruz grew up with a gas stove in rural Guatemala, but she and her husband, Venancio Juárez, can't afford one. "I've never gotten used to this," she says of the smoke. Both of her children have respiratory problems. Photo by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017.

Maria García Cruz grew up with a gas stove in rural Guatemala, but she and her husband, Venancio Juárez, can't afford one. "I've never gotten used to this," she says of the smoke. Both of her children have respiratory problems. Photo by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017.

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Women look into a pot of cornbread

Arelis Brito Aybar stands up from her seat to better see a pot of cornbread brought out of a solar oven at the Iglesia Evangelica Dominicana chapel in Villa Magante. Image by Makenzie Huber. Dominican Republic, 2016.

Firewood Collecting in San Antonio

To fuel household cooking fires, families in the developing world often spend 20 hours a week or more gathering wood—time that might otherwise be spent at school, at work, or simply at rest. These men are returning from a firewood-collecting trip to the mountains near San Antonio Aguas Calientes, Guatemala. Photo by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017.

To fuel household cooking fires, families in the developing world often spend 20 hours a week or more gathering wood—time that might otherwise be spent at school, at work, or simply at rest. These men are returning from a firewood-collecting trip to the mountains near San Antonio Aguas Calientes, Guatemala. Photo by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017.

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Woman takes picture of food with smart phone.

Mercedes Tabares snaps a picture of chicken cooked inside a solar oven with her smart phone. Image by Makenzie Huber. Dominican Republic, 2016.

Cooking in San Ramon

In San Ramon, in southern Guatemala, an elderly man cooks over an open fire. He and his neighbors recently moved here from the Rio Squisal valley, near the border with Mexico, in search of better farmland. Photo by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017.

In San Ramon, in southern Guatemala, an elderly man cooks over an open fire. He and his neighbors recently moved here from the Rio Squisal valley, near the border with Mexico, in search of better farmland. Photo by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017.

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Woman brings pot of food to feed workshop attendees

Elena Lantigua walks between the sanctuary building and kitchen to bring a pot of food to members of her church in Villa Magante. Meals for the congregation are cooking in the 10 ovens around the corner. Image by Makenzie Huber. Dominican Republic, 2016.

San Ramon

These young people in San Ramon, Guatemala, have grown up around their family’s open cooking fire. Photo by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017.

These young people in San Ramon, Guatemala, have grown up around their family’s open cooking fire. Photo by Lynn Johnson. Guatemala, 2017.

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Woman and son inspect pots of food made in solar ovens

Kathy Pérez and her son, Albert, open each of the pots to check the food made in them. Pérez, a member of the Iglesia Evangelica Dominicana church in Sosua, now visiting the chapel in Villa Liberación, doesn't know what's in the pot she inspects until another woman points out to her it's chocolate cake. Image by Makenzie Huber. Dominican Republic, 2016.

Introduction:

What ways do you and your family cook food?

  • Do you cook inside the house? Outside? Both?
  • Do you use a stove? Oven? Grill?
  • Does anyone’s family cook on an open fire? Is it indoors or outdoors?

According to the World Health Organization, “[a]round 3 billion people still cook and heat their homes using solid fuels (i.e. wood, crop wastes, charcoal, coal and dung) in open fires and leaky stoves. Most are poor, and live in low- and middle-income countries.”

The use of solid fuel open fires and leaky stoves causes an estimated 4.3 million premature deaths each year. Smoke kills more people than TB, HIV/AIDS and malaria combined. Open fires also cause 11 million burns and 200,000 deaths from burn injuries each year as well as other injuries and poisonings from ingesting fuel.

In addition, fuel gathering takes time for women and children, limiting their ability to work or go to school. What's more, the byproducts of inefficient stove combustion are significant climate change pollutants.

Today you are going to learn more about the danger of open fires and leaky stoves and possible solutions to the problem.

Reading and Discussion:

1. Read all of the stories in the Resource section. Make sure you look at all the pictures, videos, and graphics.

2. What are the primary countries that the journalists cover in their reporting?

  • Locate them on a map.
  • What do these countries have in common? What are their differences?
  • Who is using open fires and leaky stoves in these countries?

3. For each country, discuss:

  • What are the problems associated with open fire cooking and inefficient stoves?
  • Who is disproportionally affected by these problems?
  • Do you think this is a problem that will resolve itself or are interventions and programs needed to create a change? Why?
  • What are the advantages to switching cooking methods?
  • Who is involved in decreasing the use of open fires and leaky stoves?

4. Make a table outlining each strategy to decrease usage and its advantages and disadvantages. Example:

  Advantage Disadvantage
Strategy 1    
Strategy 2    

5. How do the journalists use words, images, and videos to present the issue of household air pollution and health?

6. How do they present statistics and data in their reporting?

7. Is it easier for you to understand the problem and why it needs to be addressed through the numbers or the stories?

8. Do think it is more effective to share statistics or stories if you want to teach people about the problem and encourage them to address it or develop solutions?

  • Why do you think these techniques are effective?

Extension Activity:

1. Visit your local health department website or call the local health department to find out about common health problems in your area.

2. Do research to learn more about one issue and possible solutions.

  • Are there already programs designed to address the health problem in your area?
  • What are the successes and what are the challenges?

3. Create a presentation or project that tells people about the health issue and possible solutions.

  • Think about the ways to effectively convey information to a general audience.
  • If you want to use personal stories, you need to ask permission before interviewing, recording, or photographing a person. Make sure you let them know who you are, what you are doing, and that you might use the information they share in a presentation or project.  
Educator Notes: 

For more facts about household air pollution visit this World Health Organization fact sheet.

In the discussion, make sure students realize that there is no one best way to reach people. Some people respond to images, some to words, some to numbers, and some to video.

The extension activity can be done as a class, in groups, or individually. If you do not have a local health department, contact the regional health department or look at national data for your area.

Make sure that students obtain the permission of anyone they interview and that the person knows that this information is for a class and will be shared. If you plan to post the presentation or project online, make sure the interviewee knows that and agrees to it.

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